It seems like a given that anything with Steven Spielberg’s name attached to it is expected to be good. Certainly that’s the case with Falling Skies, a new TNT program about the aftermath of an alien invasion, executive produced by Spielberg. Does it live up to those high expectations?
I had the opportunity to view a screener of the first three hours. The story begins about six months after an alien attack in which Earth’s major cities have been destroyed and all electronics have been rendered useless. Adults are hunted and killed by the aliens while parasitic creatures are attached to the backs of children, turning them into slaves for some nefarious purpose. Pockets of humanity struggle to survive, moving from one makeshift camp to another, and are beginning to strike back as part of a slowly-building resistance movement.
The focus of Falling Skies is on a band of survivors in the northeastern United States – a group that includes Tom Mason (a military history professor played by Noah Wyle), Captain Weaver (a military leader played by Will Patton), Anne Glass (a doctor played by Moon Bloodgood), as well as several other civilians-turned-resistance fighters. And that’s really the crux of most of the characters here; six months ago these people were ordinary citizens leading ordinary lives. Now they are families ripped apart by devastation fighting for their survival. But not all humans are looking out for each other. A rival resistance fighter named Pope (a fantastic character played with a welcome, hearty intensity by Colin Cunningham) is a particular thorn to this side of the resistance movement.
Mason’s story is the typical one: his wife has been killed, and he’s trying to protect his sons: his eldest, a teenager named Hal (Drew Roy) who suddenly finds himself a soldier and his youngest, Matt (Maxim Knight), who must deal with his father and brother leaving him while they go on reconnaissance missions. Mason’s middle son (Ben, played by Connor Jessup) has already been captured by the aliens and Mason ultimately aims to rescue him. But despite being second in command of the so-called 2nd Massachusetts forces, Mason is somewhat restricted by the orders of the team’s leader, Captain Weaver, who sees everyone as an asset or a burden — a situation that provides just the right amount of dramatic tension. I must admit I was all set to not like Noah Wylie being cast as an action hero, but thankfully he isn’t; he’s just a father who has to do what he can to help his family survive. This makes him not only believable, but sympathetic as well.
Part of the group’s survival depends on acquiring food, a fact not lost on the occupying aliens. Food runs are dangerous and are usually where humans will run into either the aliens (the insectoid “Skitters”) or their robotic sentries known as Mechs. The aliens of Falling Skies are nasty and quite dangerous, showing little mercy in a few well-placed action scenes that drive home point home. There are longer story arcs as well. For example, the true plan of the aliens is being revealed over the course of several episodes, with teasers dropped just frequently enough to keep you hooked.
It’s true that SciFi fans have seen the themes being explored in Falling Skies. How can you hear “alien invasion” and not think of Independence Day? And striking back at an occupying alien force sounds a lot like V. But the similarities end at the themes being explored. For one thing, this invading force does not conceal their hostile nature like the lizards of V. And don’t expect Independence Day-style action scenes. Just like The Walking Dead was not about zombie attacks, Falling Skies is not about the invasion itself. The focus here is on the aftermath and a group of survivors.
In short: Falling Skies is more post-apocalyptic drama than it is an alien invasion story. And that’s all right by me.
Falling Skies premieres on TNT June 19 at 9PM /8PM central.